Santorini Holiday Planning Guide
Known for dramatic views and romantic sunsets, the island of Santorini draws visitors with its long string of black, white, and red beaches. The largest and most significant of a small group of volcanic islands located just 200 km (120 mi) southeast of Greece's mainland, Santorini has about 15,000 permanent residents. Created by a massive volcanic eruption that likely destroyed a single large island, the archipelago still features an active volcano, which saw its last eruption in the 1950s. The easiest way to explore Santorini's craggy coastline is on foot. Start your Santorini vacation by visiting the archaeological sites on the island's southwestern side, which offer a chance to discover the area's ancient past with unobstructed views of the famed volcano.
Places to Visit on SantoriniAkrotiri
: Situated on the island's southwestern coast, this small village offers quick access to one of Europe's most significant Bronze Age archaeological sites, providing a rare look at the way of life of the ancient Minoan culture.Kamari
: Blessed with black volcanic beaches and a lively nightlife, this seaside resort remains a top choice for Santorini holidays, known for its diverse culinary scene, relaxed island atmosphere, and proximity to ancient sites.Oia
: This small town perched on top of crescent-shaped cliffs draws huge crowds with its stunning sunsets and Cycladic architecture, epitomized by steep alleys, whitewashed houses, and blue-roofed churches.Perissa
: A standout among Santorini's many seaside treasures, this little town provides travelers with a surprisingly dynamic restaurant scene and easy access to several archaeological sites, as well one of the island's finest black volcanic beaches.Fira
: Located on the edge of a volcanic caldera, the island's energetic and cosmopolitan capital makes a great base for day trips to nearby traditional villages, ancient ruins, and secluded beaches. Imerovigli
: Famed for its Cycladic architecture, this atmospheric town sits on the rim of the island's caldera, offering sweeping views of the sea and a chance to enjoy a rare Santorini vacation destination still undisturbed by mass tourism.Pyrgos
: Home to only 500 permanent residents, this former island capital seems unfazed by the passage of time, preserving in its labyrinthine streets the look and feel of medieval Santorini.Perivolos
: An increasingly popular Santorini vacation idea, little Perivolos boasts a string of seaside bars and restaurants, ideal places for meeting other tourists and locals.Karteradhos
: Located just a short walk from the island's capital, this Cycladic village offers architecture buffs a chance to observe a number of elegant stone mansions built by rich ship owners in the 19th century.Monolithos
: Popular with families with small children, tranquil Monolithos boasts beaches with shallow water and several traditional taverns, great for travelers interested in tasting some of the island's authentic dishes.
Things to Do on Santorini
Popular Santorini Tourist AttractionsPerissa Black Sand Beach
: One of the most popular places to visit in Santorini, this black volcanic beach offers calm turquoise water and an abundance of sea life, as well as easy access to nighttime dining and entertainment options.KAMARA BEACH
: Located near a lively town offering a wide choice of bars and nightclubs, Santorini's longest beach remains one of the island's best spots to watch sunrises and sunsets.Akrotiri
: Providing tourists a chance to travel back in time a few thousand years, this Bronze Age site allegedly served as the inspiration for Plato's story of Atlantis, mentioned in two of the philosopher's major works.Sunset in Oia
: Consistently ranked among the most popular Santorini tourist attractions, Oia sunsets draw a huge number of visitors to a small town perched on top of the island's dramatic cliffs.Red Beach
: Just steps from an ancient Minoan settlement destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption, this small beach welcomes hundreds of visitors each day and offers a lively resort atmosphere well into the night.Amoudi Bay
: Sitting just below the port town of Oia, this romantic bay features many seafood restaurants, ideal for quiet evening meals and cocktails at sunset.Santorini Volcano
: The cause of one of the largest and most dramatic eruptions in recorded history, this volcano features a crater rising out of the sea, especially photogenic at sunset and sunrise.Hiking Trail Fira - Oia
: A good way to see the best of what the island has to offer relatively quickly, this Santorini attraction spans approximately 9 km (5.5 mi) and offers access to picturesque beaches, small villages, and ancient churches. Ancient Thera
: Inhabited from the 9th century BCE to the 8th century CE, the ruins of this former settlement include remnants of both Roman and Byzantine periods.Museum of Prehistoric Thera
: Housing artifacts unearthed on the island, this museum features exhibits of pottery and marble figurines created in ancient times, providing a glimpse at the lifestyle of people who lived here thousands of years ago.
Planning a Santorini Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit on Santorini with Kids
Most visitors to Greece have no trouble finding plenty of kid-friendly attractions and activities on the mainland, but if you wish to combine history-infused ancient sites with outstanding beaches, bring the family to the island of Santorini. One of the best ways to spend a few hours or even days on your Santorini trip is to wander the cobbled streets of Fira
, great places for ice cream at sunset. If you want to educate as well as entertain the family, head to Akrotiri
, conveniently located near one of Europe's most important archaeological sites. While there, the kids can learn all about an ancient Minoan settlement, buried (and preserved) by volcanic ash over 3,000 years ago. Another good place for families with children is the small town of Monolithos
, with shallow water suitable for inexperienced and very young swimmers and a coastline lined with small traditional taverns.
Things to Do on Santorini with Kids
For a bit of diversion for the whole family, consider visiting Santorini Waterpark
, featuring swimming pools, water slides, and a kid-friendly play area. Families with teens wishing to add some exercise to their Santorini itinerary can explore the Cyclades with Santorini Sea Kayak - Day Tours
, offering excursions suitable for all ages and skill levels. Alternatively, head to one of the island's sun-drenched beaches, like White Beach
or Caldera Beach
. These places offer not only good swimming, but also superb snorkeling in pristine blue water still relatively free of big crowds. To get out of the bright sunshine for a while, stop by Mnemossyne Gallery
, where the family can pick up some handmade souvenirs and learn about local arts and crafts.
Tips for a Family Vacation on Santorini
Santorini serves as one of Greece's most popular island destinations, drawing huge crowds at the peak of the tourist season in July and August. Plan your family's Santorini vacation with that in mind, and consider exploring the island in the spring or autumn, when you can enjoy pleasant temperatures, less-crowded beaches, and lower hotel prices. If you do arrive in the middle of the summer, remember that the island's black volcanic sand gets scorching hot by midday. Try to hit the beaches early in the morning, leaving afternoon for strolls around the island's little towns. For the sake of convenience, you may want to rent a car, which remains arguably the easiest way to get around the island with small children. Even with access to a car, however, you'll likely do lots of walking over rocky terrain and cobbled streets unsuited to strollers, so make sure the kids bring appropriate soft-soled shoes.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday on Santorini
Cuisine of Santorini
A small island rich in diverse landscapes, Santorini also boasts a varied cuisine shaped by a combination of climatic factors and the eclectic tastes of the peoples who have lived on (or invaded) this volcanic Aegean rock. If you want to eat like a native during your Santorini trip, try some of the dishes prepared with locally grown cherry tomatoes, white eggplants, fava beans, and capers. You'll taste some of the finest food on the island at cozy, family-run taverns in small towns like Imerovigli
. These traditional eateries serve a range of local specialties, including the renowned Santorini "keftedes," a tasty dish made with fried red tomatoes mixed with herbs, butter, and onions. Gourmands on tour of Santorini should not miss the wines produced here. Known as the "wine island," Santorini boasts a number of popular wineries spread across one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. To learn about and taste some of the island's best wines, visit Wine Museum Koutsogiannopoulos
, located inside a natural cave.
Shopping on Santorini
As one of Greece's prominent wine regions, Santorini produces a range of wines enjoying special designation within the European Union. Wines produced using traditional methods of growing grapes remain one of the island's best-selling souvenirs. You can choose from a selection of white, red, sparkling, and dessert wines in places like Santo Winery
and Boutari, J., & Son Wineries S.A.
. If you prefer smaller and less expensive gift ideas, include Fira
on your Santorini itinerary. Despite its compact size, this lively town serves as the island's main commercial center, where crowded alleys filled with shops are sure to satisfy the most demanding shopaholics. Visitors looking for locally made handicrafts can also explore the streets of Oia
, home to a good selection of stores and galleries selling jewelry, ceramics, paintings, and sculptures.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Santorini
History of Santorini
Shaped by major geological events, Santorini claims some of the most dramatic episodes in recorded history. Evidence suggests organized settlements existed here as early as the 3rd century BCE. The ancient Minoan civilization arose during the Bronze Age on Santorini and other Aegean islands, flourishing for several centuries. This highly developed community perished around 1630 BCE, after a massive volcanic eruption reshaped the island's geography and buried in ash its biggest settlement. A standout among Santorini attractions, Akrotiri
offers visitors a chance to learn more about the rise and fall of the once-powerful Minoan culture.
Next on the island's historical timeline, the Phoenicians successfully established maritime trade across the Mediterranean. Dorian Greeks arrived in the 9th century BCE, founding Ancient Thera
, another one of Santorini's major historical sites. This settlement contains ruins from the Roman and Byzantine eras, including the remains of two agoras, several Greek temples, Roman baths, and Byzantine walls. To expand your understanding of the island's ancient history, visit Museum of Prehistoric Thera
Dorians made Santorini an important meeting point between the East and the West, but during the Byzantine era the island lost most of its political and military importance. Christianity arrived in the 4th century CE, with Byzantine rulers erecting a number of Christian churches on the island. You can explore hundreds of Orthodox structures on your Santorini trip, including the stunning blue-domed Ekklisia Panagia Platsani
During the Middle Ages Santorini expanded economically under Venetian rule, providing a home to a growing community of Catholic settlers. Visit Skaros Rock
to see the ruins of a castle from this period, destroyed by a series of earthquakes.
The 16th century brought a string of Turkish raids. Snatched from the Venetians by Hayreddin Passa, Santorini eventually fell under Ottoman dominion and became a key player in international trade. Ottoman rule lasted until 1821, when the Greeks rebelled and the island's ships took part in the Greek War of Independence. Stop by Naval Maritime Museum
to find out more about the island's contribution to Greece's nautical history.
Santorini entered the 20th century as a major exporter of wine and tomatoes. After the German and Italian occupation of the 1940s, the island seemed poised to enjoy a period of peace and renewed prosperity. However, a major earthquake in 1956 shattered the local economy and resulted in the abandonment of many of its small villages. Finding the strength to recover after this natural disaster, Santorini has managed to reinvent itself over the last few decades, emerging as one of Greece's most popular holiday destinations. Outstanding volcanic beaches like Perivolos
and Vlychada Beach
are bound to be a highlight of your Santorini vacation, yet also serve as a reminder of nature's overwhelming force.
Landscape of Santorini
Though many visitors to Santorini come expressly for the celebrated Cycladic architecture and stunning sunsets, the island's main attraction remains its stunning landscape. Roughly semicircular in shape, the island's current configuration is the result of a huge volcanic eruption that probably occurred around 1630 BCE. This dramatic event not only buried the island's resident Minoan culture, but also created a geological caldera, a cauldron-like volcanic feature formed by a massive collapse of land. You can enrich your Santorini sightseeing experience by taking a boat tour around the island, which is one of the best ways to view Santorini Volcano
in its full glory. Scattered along the coastline you'll also find plenty of white, red, and black volcanic beaches, counted among the island's major features and most popular attractions. You can also visit one of the nearby volcanic islands, like Palea Kameni
Holidays & Festivals on Santorini
Like the rest of Greece, Santorini observes a number of major national holidays, including New Year's Day, Epiphany (January 6), Independence Day (March 25), Easter, Labor/May Day (May 15), Assumption Day (August 15), and Christmas. Expect most banks, public offices, and shops to remain closed on those days. Many towns and villages also celebrate the feast days of their patron saints. These events offer visitors a chance to learn about local culture, artistic heritage, religious customs, and regional cuisine. Plan your Santorini holiday with these festivals in mind, remembering that most occur in the summer and fall. If you visit in July, don't miss the island's renowned International Jazz Festival, held in Kamari
and featuring both Greek and international performers. August brings the entertaining and rambunctious Ifestia Festival (a.k.a. Volcano Festival) to Fira
, combining reenactments of Santorini's infamous volcanic eruption with concerts, fireworks, and dance performances.
Santorini Travel Tips
Climate of Santorini
One of just two locations in Europe featuring a hot desert climate, Santorini generally experiences only two distinct seasons. If you visit anytime between April and October, you'll find the island in the middle of a warm and dry season. The colder and rainier weather lasts from November through March. July is not only the most popular time to visit, but also the hottest month on the island, with an average temperature of about 26 C (80 F). When planning your Santorini vacation, keep in mind that the island's volcanic beaches tend to get extremely hot in the middle of the summer. If you plan to spend most of your time swimming or basking on the volcanic sand and pebbles, try to visit in May or August, when you can take advantage of milder temperatures and less expensive accommodations.
Transportation on Santorini
As one of Europe's most popular island getaways, Santorini offers visitors a chance to explore its tourist attractions by every modern mode of transportation. The easiest way to reach the island is by airplane, with several daily flights from Athens. Alternatively, you can choose from a number of ferries departing from Piraeus. Ferries also provide an ideal way to explore Santorini's neighboring islands, which make perfect day-trips for visitors looking to escape the biggest crowds at the height of the season. You can take a bus from Fira to most destinations on the island, but if you prefer to sightsee at your own pace, consider renting a car or motorcycle. Access to a vehicle allows you to enjoy a leisurely Santorini tour on your own schedule--especially important if your trip involves small children.